“An Enduring Faith”

“An Enduring Faith”

Rev. Dr. Steve Gorman

Psalm 42:1 -7;  2 Timothy 2:1-10
My brothers and sisters in Christ, thank you for this day to be with you.   I am honored to meet you. I am inspired by you.  I cannot fully understand all that you have experienced. And I want you to know of my sincere prayers.
I have now lived in Egypt for one year. I was in Kenna last August when the churches in Egypt began to be burned.   Back in Cairo, I learned of your church.
Of course, I was glad that no one was physically hurt.  But I have prayed for you and this congregation every day since last August knowing of the emotional challenges to rebuilding your lives and this church.  I realize there has been much to endure.
Know of my deep concern.  Know of my love for you all in Christ. I promise to do what I possibly can to help rebuild this church in Mallawie.  Let our Lord strengthen us for today and for tomorrow. Let what will happen during this next year be a sign of our trust in Christ and His good work for us and through us.
St. Paul wanted the next generation to be strong in faith.  He knew this at the depth of his heart!  He was in prison about to face his own death.  But for him, this would be his time of deliverance.  He had written of this in his letter to the Philippians, “to live is Christ and to die is gain.”  (Phil1:21)
Even as he faced the end of his earthly life,   he wanted new beginnings in our lives.   Followers of Jesus Christ are filled with hope and confidence.  We always have new life before us.  Paul believed and preached this many years ago. He shared that message with others.  He would share this same message with you and me today.
He also knew that following our Lord can be difficult.  He knew that each generation would have their own special challenges.  He knew each generation would experience great pain.
He did not believe his life was the best example of living before God.  That comes to us in Jesus Christ.  He, alone, is our Best Guide as we journey in faith.  Yet, Paul knew that he was a sinner redeemed in Christ.  He could be an example as an elder brothers, Or a kind of father.  He could be an example of someone who lived his faith to the end.
He wrote this letter to a young pastor, Timothy.  He knew that Timothy, and every one of us, could face great challenges in our faith. Paul knew our journey in Christ is not easy.  In fact, the journey itself can be very difficult.  I do not need to convince you of that, my brothers and sister. One will suffer a lot.  People can turn away from you.  Some will reject you.  Others will harm you.

Even your friends will turn away from you.  Perhaps this was the most difficult part of Paul’s journey.
He had also experienced traveling in very uncomfortable weather.  Cold and hot! He had experienced ship wrecks and nearly drowned at sea.  Crowds had arrested him and beaten him.  He had been hated, falsely accused and thrown into jail.   Now, we find him in prison.  He is facing his own death.  When the door would finally open to his cell, it would be for his execution.  But he knew this would bring his deliverance from the world.  He would be freed to join his resurrected Lord!
Paul’s letter was not to just any friend who he might join for tea.  He was not even writing to some older evangelist, a person of great faith, he had traveled with.  He was writing to the next generation. He wrote this letter to his young friend, a new pastor whom he deeply cared about.  He calls Timothy, “my beloved child.”
Just as Paul had faced pain and difficulties, he knew this would be true for his beloved child, Timothy.  He knew it would be true for me.  He knew it would be true for you.  Our Lord had taught His own disciples, “Anyone who does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.”  (Matt. 10:38)  To follow our living Lord means our lives are a living sacrifice, gladly obedient to Jesus.   Paul wrote to the church of Corinth, “there is power in the Cross.”  (1 Cor. 1:17)  To suffer in Christ is not without meaning.  It is not without power.
Even as you or I face the struggles and challenges of faith we have this power.
We have this hope.  We can endure.  Paul wanted to make that very clear to young Timothy.
I will soon leave you, Paul wrote.  Jesus is the Author and Perfecter of our faith, the One who endured the cross. We read this in the Letter to the Hebrews in our New Testament.  (Heb. 12:2)  Jesus is the One we are to follow.  I, Paul, can be a mere human example.  You need other examples close to you, Timothy.  Let me give you three more who we all have in our lives here in Upper Egypt: the soldier, the athlete and the farmer.  Let their example also encourage you.  For our journey in Christ is difficult.  Yes, it has its joys. So very great joys. But let these three examples encourage you toward an enduring faith.
Let us begin with the soldier.  What is special about someone in the military?
They are loyal to their Commander.   I spent four years in the military, the United States Air Force. Sometime my commander would call me into his office.  I did not say, “Let me check my calendar; maybe I can see you next week!”  I went to his office immediately!
When he gave me an order, I did it immediately.  When he gave me a larger assignment, I began to work on it immediately.  To do anything less would be disloyal and disobedient.  A soldier responds to his commander as soon as he hears the orders.
Secondly, a soldier is focused.  Your work is your life.  Your work gets your total attention.    You know that your enlistment will demand of you.  You will sacrifice your own will to that of the commander’s.  You may also have to make the great sacrifice of your own life. Your commander, the other soldiers you work with, they all count on your training to immediately respond to their commands and needs.  This is a soldier’s life, focused, working for others.
Now, I do not believe Paul was calling Timothy to physical battle with weapons like a sword and shield.  He was telling Timothy that our Lord calls us to something even harder – spiritual battle. You will have to endure fights. You will fight against Satan.  You will fight with human spiritual enemies.  You will struggle with those who are spiritually weak or are using their faith for personal gain.  Stay focused on your Commander, who Paul calls the Enlisting Officer.  This is the very Person who signed you up to be this soldier. You, Timothy, must be loyal, focused, obedience, and open to sacrifice.  For you see, Timothy, Paul is telling him that Jesus Christ IS the Enlisting Officer; Jesus Christ in our Commander.
Second, live this faith like an athlete. Learn to run the race.  For years before both my hips were replaced – they are now both metal – I was a runner. I decided to run in a 10 kilometer race. This was longer than any running I did each morning.  But I would make the effort to run this long distance.
Now I knew that younger runners would win the prize of the race.  Younger men
and women could run faster.  So, I needed to have my own goals in this race.
My first goal was to run the 10 kilometers and never stop.  Never walk.  I would
run from the beginning to the very end.  My second personal goal was to run these 10 kilometers in less than one hour.  This was not a record setting pace but it would be a challenge.
The day of the race I ran beside a friend.  He was a big encouragement.  But when we got halfway through the race he said, “Someone just won!”  We had only completed half the race.  Several of those younger men and women were already crossing the finish line.  I would not win a trophy this day!
But I could run the race I needed to run.  I did.  I never stopped running.  And I
completed the race in less than an hour.  Something else:  I did not cheat.  I ran that whole distance according to the rules, according the course set before me.
Now, to complete this race I had to prepare.  For several months I got up early and ran.  Each week I ran a little further.    We have to get in shape to run a long race.  That takes certain disciplines.  In the race of faith – spiritual disciplines. We need to be people of worship, of prayer, of scripture and of faithful service. We have to be like a Paul or a Timothy and get in shape to run this long race for Christ.
A great athlete has strength, but it is strength which has grown. They learn to run through pain.  They learn not to be tempted to cheat and use some short cut in the route. Jesus Christ sets the route, that journey, for each of us.  It has turns and twists,  ups and downs.  Timothy, too, had a race to run and a goal before him.   When we run to the end, we receive the crown of righteousness.  That kind of crown is called a Stephanos – from which comes the name, Stephen.  Paul is telling Timothy, look to the athlete.  Built up your endurance. Run the race set before you to the end.
To the soldier and the athlete, Paul adds a third example: the farmer.   In the central valley of California there once lived a husband and wife.  They had several children but I would like us to focus on them.  They looked like many of the farmers I have seen in Egypt.  Their skin was darker than mine because they were deeply tanned. They were also Portuguese relatives, people with browner skin.  When I was very young I would go stay with them each summer for a week. First, they had a dairy farm, making milk.  I loved all their cows roaming their farm.  Later they grew watermelons.  Still later, almond trees.  To their orchards they added many fields’ grapes.  I walked among this vineyard many times.
They never knew if there would be enough rain.  Maybe it would get too hot and dry?  What if a disease came upon the cows?  Later, what if some disease or insect destroyed their crops?
They planted and worked many, many hours. Then they took care of the crops, cutting and trimming, and pulling up weeds.   Now, they waited.  It takes a lot of patience to just let the crops grow. This did not work as hard as when they had first planted.  Finally came the harvest.  They worked from sun-up to sundown. They stored some of the harvest for themselves and sold the rest.
They were amazing, strong people to me.  They worked hard all of the years
of the lives.  I knew them as my relatives who had come from Portugal to California.  But mostly, for me, they were farmers.    Timothy, Paul writes, be a hardworking farmer.  Plant the gospel among all.
Wait for the church of God to grow. Cultivate leaders of all ages.  Wait for
them to grow.  And when the harvest time comes, harvest, harvest, harvest!
For the Lord of your vineyard is Jesus Christ.  He is the Vine and His people are the vine branches.  Plant.  Cultivate.  Care for them.  Work hard.   Sacrifice yourself as each day demands. Enjoy the first fruits.  Celebrate with joy the harvest. And give it all , all,  to God with thanksgiving!
Paul is writing from prison.  He is writing to the next generation, a young pastor.  You, too, Timothy, will face many challenges.  Perhaps your own struggles will be even greater than mine?  So, look first to Christ.  Never forget His love and grace.  Never forget his wisdom and strength.  Never forget He endured the cross.  Never forget your salvation in Him.  Never forget His sacrifice. Look always to His great victory!
I have been a pastor now for thirty-five years.  I, too, know that following our Lord and serving Him is challenging.  I have known the challenges of loving others and suffering in their pain. I have known rejection and disappointments.
Still, I am humbled even now as we have seen this nation come to the brink of civil war.  But you people were strong in your love and forgiveness.  You have faced the great challenge of the loss of your church buildings. I am sure there are many other stories to tell. You have been called to endure in your faith.  We are all called to endure to the end!
Could anyone of us be the strong soldier, that athlete of great endurance or that hardworking farmer for our Lord?  Not without His living Presence.  Not without the Holy Spirit.  Not without prayer and scripture and one another to encourage our endurance.  All of these are gifts of Jesus Christ.
And when we come to live our lives in Him, we discover something amazing.
He is more than the Commander, that Enlisting Officer.  He is also the Soldier standing beside us, protecting us,  guiding us, and giving us the victory in every spiritual battle!
And when we come to live our lives in Him, we discover something amazing.
He is more than the One who laid out the course of the race and yelled, “On your mark, get set, go!” In fact, He is running beside us, coaching our steps, matching us step for step.  Strengthening our tired bodies.  Keeping us away from the temptation to break the rules.  He provides us the strength and courage to move through the pain.  He is with us until the end of the race!
And when we come to live our lives in Him, we discover something amazing.
He, Himself, is a farmer.  He takes us into the fields and teaches us to toss the seed of His Gospel boldly.  It will land upon every kind of soil. Let it grow!
Then be careful how you pick the weeds.  You don’t want to hurt the best crop.
Wait for what you have planted with prayer and patience.  Endure the hardships and trials of the environment of our world.  For you and I will get to His glorious harvest.  What a joyful day that will be!
Remember the Lord.  Follow Him first.  Obey Him.  Seek your strength in Him.  Plant and cultivate in Him.  Endure the hardships.  Endure the cross.
Timothy, Stephen, and everyone here – look to Him as the greatest Example of faith, the pioneer and perfecter of it.  Endure to the end.
Today we people of God are called to follow our Lord.  We have other examples – the Apostle Paul, Timothy, and the soldier, athlete and farmer.  Yet our goal in life is the same. We are to find our strength and endure every challenge through faith in Jesus Christ.
Paul believed he had done this, however imperfectly, as he writes his letter from prison.  So, he ends this letter to Timothy with these powerful words each one of us Christian of every generation want to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race; there is stored up for me the crown of righteousness.”  (II Tm. 4:7-8)
The challenges of faith are not our end.  They are our beginning! The great challenge of faith is to come to Christ and remain in Christ.  Let us all live an enduring faith.  Amen.

 

 

 

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